8 Jul 2023

Thank you for having me

At Debrett’s we have often written about the necessity of writing thank-you notes and today we are focusing on thanks for hospitality. A letter thanking a host is known as a “bread and butter letter” a term that probably originated in America in the 19th century. Mrs Lyman, writing in The Ladies’ Home Journal of February 1894 opines: The ‘bread and butter letter,’ as it is sometimes called, because it is supposed to be an expression of thanks for what bread and butter stands for, should be written within twenty-four hours after arrival at one’s destination, to the hostess whose hospitality one has been enjoying.”

So far, so prescriptive. But society has changed a great deal over the last century, and for many hosts the prompt receipt of a handwritten note is a distant memory. While we are great supporters of the handwritten letter and have written at length about the fact that the effort the writer has gone to (locating stationery, envelope, stamp, handwriting the note legibly) is seen as being commensurate with their gratitude, we must accept that thank-you notes are increasingly sent by email and text.

The main point is that some sort of thanks should be sent. It is fine to send a quick text when you’ve been given an informal supper by old friends. More formal entertaining, and overnight stays, will warrant a lengthier missive, whether it is by post or email. You need to demonstrate your gratitude and appreciation to your hosts; moreover, most hosts will be grateful for the affirmation and reassurance that they receive from a thank-you note, which is a great way of allaying any social anxiety a host might be feeling after an event. We cannot argue with Mrs Lyman’s assertion that bread and butter letters should be sent soon after the event – if you leave it more than two or three days it will begin to look like a careless afterthought.

Whatever the means of sending the message, the important thing is to make it sound heartfelt and to resist formulaic phrasing and meaningless clichés. If a thank-you letter sounds like something that was written on autopilot it is as good as useless. This is an example of how not to write a thank-you note:

Dear Maisie and Felix

Thank you for having me to stay last weekend.

I really enjoyed my stay. The food was delicious! Unfortunately, my train was cancelled on the way back, and I didn’t get home until midnight.

I look forward to seeing you both again soon.



This letter fails on several levels. It is flat and dutiful and completely generic. No mention is made of any specific hospitality (the company, the food that was served, the house and garden, an outing etc). The complaint about the train rounds the whole letter off on a needlessly negative note. There is nothing the hosts can do about the vagaries of public transport, but they are made to feel vaguely responsible. Thank-you notes should always be relentlessly positive and any inconveniences or difficulties associated with the occasion should never be revealed.

The example below demonstrates the effusive tone and small details that should distinguish your thank-you note:

Dear Maisie and Felix

I just wanted to drop you a note to say thank you so much for all your generous hospitality last weekend.

The garden was looking superb, and we were so lucky with the weather – it was so relaxing to be able to sit outside late in the evening, sipping your lovely English wine and watching the sunset.

Thanks for introducing me to your neighbours – Nathan was really entertaining and I’m hoping to meet up with Eleanor when she’s up in London next week. You’re lucky to have such a convivial couple living nearby.

I very much appreciated all the delicious food, particularly the fresh mackerel we bought down at the harbour front. What a treat!

I do hope you’ll be able to come and visit me in London very soon. Do let me know when you’ve had a chance to look at your diaries and we can make plans.

Much love


This letter is warm and positive. The writer picks out various highlights of the weekend (the garden, the wine, the neighbours, the food), and comments on them in a very upbeat way, demonstrating that she savoured every moment and appreciated all the hospitality. Focusing on details (the English wine, the mackerel) demonstrates that certain aspects of the hospitality were outstanding and therefore worthy of comment. Approbation (of the garden and the neighbours) reassures the hosts, who will feel validated by all the compliments. It is always a good idea to end a thank-you note with offers of reciprocal hospitality – even it they are fairly vague, they indicate that the event was a success and reinforce feelings of friendship.

If you feel that you may have transgressed in some way (over-boisterous drunken behaviour, an unpleasant row with a fellow guest, a spill or breakage), now is the time to apologise. Add a paragraph offering sincere regrets, but only after you have expressed your gratitude, and try to wrap up the apology in a compliment. For example: “I am so sorry if I over-indulged in your delicious single malt whisky on Saturday night. I fear the political discussion may have become over-heated and can only apologise – you were obviously far too lavish with your hospitality.” Or, “I really must apologise for my clumsiness: you were so understanding when I broke the little vase in my bedroom. I shall be keeping an eye open for a suitable replacement.”


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